Review for The Defiant Ones
There are the movies that I love, which tend to be the crowd-pleasing, blockbusters, entertainment vehicles, and there are the important movies, the ‘1000 films to see before I die’ movies; a prime example being Stanley Kramer’s Inherit the Wind, which I reviewed last month. Once in a while a film crops up which inhabits the intersection of this particular Venn diagram, and The Defiant Ones is a perfect example. It’s a film that I love to watch as a piece of entertainment, but it’s also a powerful piece of social commentary as well, once again from director Stanley Kramer. It now makes its UK Blu-ray debut, thanks to Eureka Entertainment in this dual format edition. I only had the Blu-ray check disc to review.
It was the warden’s idea of a joke, chaining a cynical white bigot to a black man with a chip on his shoulder, but when the truck transporting the chain gang crashes during a storm, John “Joker” Jackson and Noah Cullen escape and go on the run, still chained at the wrists. The posse that is sent after them, led by Sheriff Max Muller have conflicting opinions on what to do to escaped convicts. But if Jackson and Cullen aren’t to kill each other, they’ll have to learn to work together, and that might be harder!
The Defiant Ones gets a 1.66:1 pillarboxed 1080p monochrome transfer on this disc. The image is clear and sharp, detail levels are good, and contrast is excellent. There is a consistent level of film grain, and the odd moment of flicker, and one noticeable moment of print damage around 56 minutes into the film, a couple of broad vertical bands on the right side of a frame. That said, this doesn’t look like a film that has had an extensive restoration and it very much wears its 60 years on the print.
The images in this review were kindly supplied by Eureka Entertainment.
The sole audio track is a PCM 2.0 English track with optional SDH subtitles. The dialogue is clear, and there are no problems with glitches or dropouts.
The disc boots to a static menu. You get the film’s trailer running to 2:24 HD, and you get an enjoyable interview with Kim Newman on the film, and he offers some interesting observations. This latter runs to 19:59 HD.
The film was sold, and let’s face it is still sold on the race-relations ticket, the idea of a racist white man chained to a proud black man, forced to work together to survive. But as Kim Newman says in the extras, The Defiant Ones is more subtle than that. John Jackson isn’t a racist. He’s a cynic who accepts the world as it is, a world where black men are second class citizens is the same world that never gave him an even chance, and he’s not going to fight the status quo, he’s just going to do what he needs to get what he deserves. Meanwhile Noah Cullen isn’t a representative of a race, he just wants the respect he’s due as a human being, and he’s fully aware that there is a reason why he’s in prison; racism may have provoked him, but he did break the law. The Defiant Ones is a far more personal, character based movie than it is a polemic on civil rights, and that makes it a whole lot more entertaining, and actually makes its message more effective.
It’s a story in three chapters really, the escape, during which Cullen and Jackson work out their mutual antagonism to the point where they can work together, can at least communicate. Then there is the village where they run into a lynch mob, and find some unexpected help, and the final act, where they find shelter with a single mother and her son, and have their fragile trust tested when their shackles finally come off. Interspersing all this is the pursuit, a bloodthirsty posse led by a humane sheriff who has to keep his men muzzled as well as the bloodhounds.
It’s a fascinating idea, that mutual antagonism can be set aside in the face of shared adversity, and that common ground and even friendship can form, or ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’. But it’s the performances and characterisations that really make this film work, with the casting of Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis absolutely spot on. The Defiant Ones is that all important movie, the one with a powerful message, that is also a great piece of entertainment. This Blu-ray release from Eureka Films gives it a great HD presentation that is very watchable indeed.